Climate Leaders Talk Solutions at the Global Climate Action Symposium

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Last month, Georgia Tech hosted the first-ever fully-virtual Global Climate Action Symposium. The Symposium, which attracted a global audience spanning 21 different countries, brought together a diverse set of speakers and participants to focus on key issues in climate action.

“We’re in this together,” President Angel Cabrera (President, Georgia Tech), underscored during the event’s opening. “The biggest challenges that we face as a species affect us all… the biggest issues are going to be global in nature”. An annual collaboration between the Georgia Tech Global Change Program, the Atlanta Global Studies Center, the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, and 6 European consuls based in Atlanta (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, and Switzerland) the Global Climate Action Symposium showcased this collaborative, international effort.

Topics included Ecosystems & Climate, Environmental & Climate Justice, and COVID-19 & Green Recovery. Each day featured a keynote from a renowned expert in their field, as well as a panel discussion between experts from diverse backgrounds. Student voices were also highlighted in a curated set of lightning talks: short videos from students about their ongoing projects, research, and insights relating to each day’s theme. Students from kindergarten through the collegiate level competed in a photography and art contest highlighting the intersection of visual arts and climate action. A full program of events is available here.

"The southeastern U.S. and Georgia are in uncertain and changing climate zones, which means we don't know what our ecosystems will look like by the end of the century.” Dr. Jackie Mohan (Associate Professor, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia) asserted during a riveting keynote for the “Ecosystems and Climate” theme. discussing the latest science in the field of sustainable forestry, and underscoring the importance of the less Panelists discussed the critical role of ecosystems in the climate system, how they can be utilized as part of the solution moving forward, and the essential role that community collaboration plays. "When we do work together, we find that we can absolutely advance science as well as the goals of our partner organizations" panelist Dr. Jennifer Marlon (Research Scientist, Yale School of the Environment and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication) concluded.

The next day explored the intersection of racial justice and climate action through the lens of equity in our local community, to the global community. “We will not be able to ameliorate our current situation without considering equity in our green policies, our green construction, our green education, but most importantly in our everyday mindset”, said Angelica Acevedo (a Georgia Tech undergraduate student in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication) during her lightning talk on equity in green building. In the morning, panelists reflecting a deep pool of collective expertise discussed environmental justice in the context of climate change, and suggested concrete, actionable strategies for progress in this critical area.

Expanding on these ideas, Dr. Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks, Director of the West-Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Assistant Professor in the Environmental and Health Sciences Program at Spelman College, and long-time partner to Georgia Tech’s Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, gave an inspiring keynote speech honing in on local inequities through the lens of Proctor Creek. Later a virtual tour of the West-Atlanta Watershed Alliance showcased the power of community-driven action in driving lasting change. Dr. Kim Cobb, Director of Georgia Tech’s Global Change Program, says the focus on environmental justice is timely and urgent. “It can’t be any more clear - lasting climate solutions must center the perspectives of communities on the frontlines of climate impacts, who are already grappling with a range of environmental challenges.”

The final day of the Global Climate Action Symposium focused on the future, exploring emerging frameworks to advance climate action on the pathway to social and economic recovery from COVID-19, including plans currently under development in Europe. Expert panelists discussed the process of implementing these steps: “climate change & inequality are not easy to tackle, but in many cases we know what needs to be done. It's now an issue of - how to we get from the knowing to the doing?" suggested panelist Mirjana Spoljaric Egger (Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Assistant Administrator of UNDP, and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS). A keynote discussion with Dagmara Koska (Counselor to the Delegation of the European Union to the United States) and Vicki Arroyo (Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center) explored pathways for COVID19 recovery efforts that simultaneously accelerate progress on climate change.

Virtual tours, art exhibits, and workshops followed each morning's panel discussions, student lightning talks and keynote features, connecting the day’s dialogue with real-world examples of climate action. Renowned German photographer Barbara Dombrowski showcased her photography exhibit on climate justice (watch it here), and a tour of the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) (available here) illustrated interactive artwork focusing on critical zones.

A full archive of the event’s panels and talks is available here.


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